Sparklite Interview – The Spark Behind the Upcoming Zelda-Like Adventure

There are some games out there that just ooze with charm to the point that you immediately want to play it. One of these games for us is Sparklite, the upcoming Red Blue Games developed action-adventure game — published by Merge Games.

After spotting the game and playing it briefly at the [email protected] event during GDC 2019, we’ve had a dire need not only to play more of it but also to truly get an understanding of what the game is all about. Thankfully, we had the chance to ask Edward Rowe, Programmer, Artist, Designer of Sparklite, some questions to learn more about Sparklite, the developer’s past history making mobile games, and more.

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Brad Crespo: Sparklite has been called a “Legend of Zelda-like” game. Was this something that you all were aiming for, and if so, why?

Edward Rowe: Zelda was definitely one of our biggest inspirations. We wanted to capture the charm and sense of adventure/exploration of Zelda games, as well as their approachability. But we also made a big effort to bring something new to the genre and to give our own spin on it. The game loop is a huge differentiator that I think is pretty innovative when combined with Zelda-like gameplay.

BC: Prior to developing Sparklite, it seems as though your team focused more-so on mobile games. How did this experience come into play with Sparklite?

ER: We did the mobile games to help build out our initial portfolio as a studio and as a practice exercise for us. We hadn’t built games in Unity before starting Red Blue, so we wanted to do some small games that would help us learn the engine and also help us with our game production workflow.

We really took all that experience with us into Sparklite. The mobile games were all 2D, and one was pixel-art. Our “Flappy Bird”-style game had procedural gameplay. Those all helped us understand the problems we’d need to solve.

The mobile games also landed us contract work, which we used to fund about half of the development of Sparklite.

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BC: Were there any valuable lessons learned from mobile development that you think all developers should know?

ER: Quality is not cheap. Even a small game takes time. Also, games aren’t just inherently fun – you really do have to work to find the fun.

Oh, and this is pretty well known, but the App Store market is tough. I wouldn’t go it alone next time. (Disclaimer: this was before Apple Arcade).

BC: From our experience with Sparklite, we noticed it’s an interesting hybrid between being an action-adventure game and a roguelike. Why did you, as a team, decide to mix these two genres?

ER: Honestly, these are just some of our favorite genres. As we’ve gotten older and started families (and our own game studio), it’s become harder and harder to make time for big, story-heavy games. Those games are like books – if you put them down for too long it takes a bit to get back into it. It can become the reason you don’t pick them back up. In roguelikes, every play session is (mostly) a new start. So, we liked the idea of trying to apply that to an adventure game.

It was a challenge, because progression is one of those things that’s required for a fun adventure game but is antithetical to roguelikes. So we tried to strike a balance, and I think we did it well. We were able to draw from our experiences with Link Between Worlds and Breath of the Wild to help us some because they have non-linear progression.

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BC: We recall during our GDC 2019 playthrough that you mentioned you were working on making Sparklite as accessible as possible. How do you think you were able to accomplish this — striking a balance between making the game not too difficult yet not too easy?

ER: The big thing we tried to do was keep from creating too high of a skill floor – a minimum level of skill required to progress. The bosses are essentially skill checks because you can’t beat the game without defeating the bosses. If a boss requires too high of a minimum skill level, we basically just forced some players out. But we also couldn’t neglect the better players and make the bosses too easy. So we made sure every boss had a mix of moves that are tough to dodge and some vulnerable moments, and then we give lots of ways for players to make themselves stronger and more resilient to the hits. Skilled players will learn the boss patterns and timings and be able to dodge them reliably, and other players can collect more heart pickups, damage pickups, and invent gadgets to help raise their power level.

Hopefully, we struck the right balance. We will have to see how it’s perceived more widely.

BC: Sparklite is centered around the world of Geodia falling into ruin due to folks taking away its life-source, which is sparklite. This reminds of the global climate strike happening in the real world. But, how was the game’s plot created, specifically?

ER: Creating the story of Sparklite has been one of the more difficult but interesting challenges on the project. We knew from the start that we wanted to have some environmental undertones. Climate change is simply the biggest global crisis the civilized world has experienced, and we wanted to do what we can as game developers to help shape minds around it. We’d also noticed parallels in today’s politics and economics to the original Gilded Age, so those sort of acted as the big pillars inspiring the story. That said, we also wanted to make a fun and accessible game for everyone. So everything came out of striking that balance.

Writing game stories is one of those problems that has tons of interconnected variables – who’s the protagonist, what’s her goal, is there a villain, what’s the sinister plot, how will you reveal the story through the game, how will the story reflect gameplay and vice versa… You just can’t balance the equation unless you fix some of the variables, so I think that was our strategy. Decide on the major variables and start tweaking everything else.

It was very iterative, though. We spent a lot of dog walks talking about the story, poking holes in it and filling it out until it worked.

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BC: The game is coming to multiple platforms, which is great! That said, what was development like for each platform? Was there one that you felt was “easier” to develop on than the others?

ER: They all had their challenges, but the Switch was probably the easiest simply because their documentation was good. The primary challenge of the Switch was optimizing for the CPU. But, in general, that was something we needed to do in order to make it playable on older PCs anyway.

BC: What can we expect the future of Sparklite to look like? Are we thinking post-launch DLC, perhaps?

ER: I’m not sure about DLC specifically, but we have lots of ideas for new game modes, buildings in town, NPCs, and other features that we are really excited about. We are planning to patch in some of that, but the more successful the game is, the more we will be able to continue adding to it.

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BC: Anything else you’d like to share with everyone looking forward to playing Sparklite?

ER: I am just really excited to have people see and explore the world. I hope everyone enjoys the world we’ve created and comes to love the characters as much as we do. And, if anyone is interested in following progress and talking about the game with us they can follow us on Twitter or other social media.

Sparklite is set to release on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, and PC-via Steam on November 14. If you haven’t already, check out our preview of Sparklite from earlier this year where we dive into its unique world.

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Brad Crespo

Editor-in-Chief - On a quest to play as many new games as possible while trying to finish an endless backlog.